September 14, 2007
Don't Change Your Church!
Dan Kimball says some churches should not adjust their style to reach young people, but they shouldn’t ignore them either.
In part one of our interview with Dan Kimball he talked about the intersection of the emerging church with missional theology. Simply changing the church's worship style isn't enough, he says. Becoming truly missional requires "an ecclesiological change." In part two, Kimball address the role aging congregations can play in helping to reach the younger generation. And, once again, the answer is more about having a missional mindset rather than a cutting edge worship style.
You've been at this conference for a couple of days now. Are you sensing that leaders are asking the deeper philosophical questions? What kind of questions are you hearing? It's been refreshing to see the interest in the future of the church by mostly middle aged and older pastors. They are really concerned about younger people. It's refreshing and very sincere. I think this is happening because churches recognize younger people are disappearing. A woman talked to me just this morning about her daughter disconnecting from the church. She was very emotional. She wanted to know what her church could possibly do. So the refreshing part is seeing real passion from leaders saying we must do something. And the sad part is I suspect existing churches won't be willing or able to make the necessary changes. I really, really hope they can. But it will take a sense of humility and passion.
And what do you say to people when they are looking to you for the answer?
This sounds clich?, but there isn't a single answer. So much depends on the church.
So much depends on the history of the specific church. So much depends on who is in the leadership of the church. So much depends on the skill sets of the existing leaders. So much depends on the church's culture, and who is part of the church and who lives in the community around the church. Sometimes a church shouldn't do anything because they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing for the people God has given them to shepherd and lead and reach.
This is a true story. A guy read The Emerging Church, and a year later he saw me. He said, "Dan, It's just not working." And I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I got some art stuff, and we are doing multi-sensory worship. And I'm having people come up and paint. But the younger people aren't coming in." I asked him, "What is your church is like." He said it was about twenty-five elderly people. My heart broke listening to him share what happened. He convinced this group of elderly people they need to worship differently. They even changed the name of their church. He thought changing the worship gathering and having twenty-five elderly people do art in worship would bring in the younger people. His sincerity almost made me want to cry. We talked about his situation and I encouraged him to just shepherd the existing group of people in a way that makes sense to them and they can relate to.
So, not every leader needs to radically change their church.
No, because God may have their church a certain way intentionally. We need different kinds of churches in every city. Everyone doesn't need to change their style to reflect what we are doing. What does need to change, however, is the development of an outward missional heart - no matter what kind or type of a church you are. But being missional will look different depending on your location, who the leaders are, what the people of the church are like, etc. You can have a very missional church of primarily elderly people or you can have a very non-missional church of twenty-somethings.
It's hard for churches that are growing older to face the future. Maybe for some older congregations the answer is partnering with a younger church plant. We are doing that with our church. We've partnered with an aging church and we share their facilities. We are really joining together. It has its difficulties, but because it is missionally motivated it is extremely rewarding. But what makes it possible is that the older church has a missional mindset.
Dan Kimball is pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, and author of They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Zondervan, 2007). A review of his book can be found in the summer issue of Leadership.